TTT: Top 10 Favorite Books Read in 2016

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week is a freebie, so I will post my favorite reads from last year.  They are in no particular order. Have you read any of these?  Were any of these favorites of yours?  What were your favorites from last year?  If you did your own TTT post today, feel free to link up to mine in the comments section, especially as there isn’t a link up at the Broke and the Bookish.

  1.  The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead – This is  a historical fiction novel about slavery in America and attempted escape via a virtual underground railroad.  My review
  2. My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout – This is a work of contemporary fiction that begins with a young woman recovering from complications of appendicitis in the hospital.  Her mother visits her and through their conversations, you learn more about the nature of the woman’s dysfunctional childhood.  However, more is learned by what is not said than what is said.  My review
  3. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah – This is a historical fiction novel about two sisters in France during World War 2 and how they participate in the resistance movement there.   My review
  4. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi – This is a memoir by a neurosurgical fellow who at the age of 36 has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.  My review
  5. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff – This is a novel about a marriage and the secrets that sustain it.  The first half is written from the husband’s perspective and the second half from the wife’s.  My review
  6. Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson – This is a dream-like novel about a woman who is traveling back to Brooklyn to visit her ill father.  She catches a glimpse of one of her close childhood friends who she has not spoken to since childhood and the memories come flooding back to her.  It is a story about growing up black in Brooklyn in the 1970s, about close friendships and how they make you stronger, about not understanding or accepting death as a child…  My review
  7. Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood – This is Margaret Atwood’s modern day adaption of Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest.’   My review
  8. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi – This is a historical fiction novel spanning some 400+ years following many generations of a family, some of which were sold into slavery and brought to America, while others remained in Ghana.  My review
  9. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah – This is collection of autobiographical essays by Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show.  Trevor Noah grew up in South Africa under apartheid, son of a black woman and white man.  My review
  10. Forty Rooms by Olga Grushin – This novel by Russian born author Olga Grushin, takes place in 40 rooms of homes/dorms/apartments within which the protagonist of this novel has lived.   It is a dreamy look into the hopes and aspirations that a woman has in childhood and what they become in the future.  It is about the choices a woman makes in life.  My review

Trump This! The Life and Times of Donald Trump, An Unauthorized Biography by Marc Shapiro ~ Book Review

Pages: 204

Published: February 26, 2016

Format:  E-book from netgalley

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you to Patty for writing a review on goodreads, which piqued my interest in reading this book.  I was one of many people who did not understand the Donald Trump phenomenon during the election, who could not fathom the possibility of him getting elected, but it happened.  I decided I would read this biography to better understand our president, his motivations for becoming president and what his agenda might be.  I’m not sure how much new about our President I learned, however, it was helpful to have all the information in one place.

I felt that I knew the superficial Donald Trump from media attention over many years.  I knew about him as the real estate tycoon, the Apprentice showman, the man with dazzling new beautiful wives, the alleged affairs, and most recently the run for president.  He loves the spotlight and America has seen so much of him, but I was hoping to discover something more.. to explain his run for president as something more than attention-seeking.  This book is well written and researched, covers his life from crib to ascension to president, and is easy to read.

Shapiro describes a Trump who “in his personal and professional life, has been slicker than Mercury and just as hard to handle.”  What we learn from this book is that Donald Trump denies and strikes back when questioned or attacked.  He rarely gives straightforward answers.  He waffles on his positions.  He says outrageous things and gets away with it.

He has had three marriages with beautiful women.  He seems to have been enamored of the concept of “trophy wife.”  He was having an affair with the second while still married to the first.  He tried to broker a deal for Marla (wife #2) with playboy for her to pose nude, which she ultimately declined.

What comes across in this book is that Donald is extremely vain with a mania for branding.  He is a showman and a master manipulator.  He utilizes his privilege and wealth to great advantage throughout his life.  He gets into Wharton business school by way of family ties, he is able to escape the draft by reason of being at Wharton.  He wields his money and power over the media daring them to defy him.  He cares very much about his image and does whatever he can to maintain that image, including bribing journalists.  He is extremely money hungry and very concerned with public perception of his wealth, to the extent that he has actually sued over his perceived underestimation of his wealth by the media.   He is prone to telling stories that are often untrue.  Perhaps the greatest example of this is the propagation of the “birther movement.”  Trump’s insistence on questioning Obama’s place of birth had created a rallying cry so fierce that Obama felt compelled to produce his birth certificate, finally putting the movement to rest.

Donald Trump has proven himself racist.  In his speech announcing his run for president he said “When Mexico sends it people, they’re not sending their best.  They’re sending people who have lots of problems.  They’re bringing drugs.  They’re bringing crime.  They’re rapists.  And some, I assume, are good people.”  Multiple news outlets reported that  the Trump campaign had paid extras to come and cheer for that rally and others.  Trump has stated that if it were up to him all Muslims would be banned from entering the United States.

Many world leaders have evoked a fascist comparison of Trump and his ideals, including People and NSNBC.  Trump kept a copy of “My New Order,” a book of Adolf Hilter’s collected speeches by his bed according to ex-wife Ivana.  Trump, defending his proposed ban on Muslims, in an interview with Good Morning America, cited President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s use of the Alien and Sedition Acts following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.  In February 2016, Trump retweeted a quote from fascist Italian dictator Benito Mussolini that said, “It’s better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.”   In July 2016, Trump retweeted a picture of Clinton next to a star-shaped badge, similar to the Jewish Star of David that read “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever”  against a background of $100 bills.  It was immediately condemned as anti-Semitic, so Trump had the star replaced with a circle and #AmericaFirst.  He would soon be criticized that America First is the name of a fascist organization that encouraged appeasement with Aldolph Hitler and Nazi Germany during World War II.

Donald Trump has proven himself sexist and misogynistic.  Megyn Kelly confronted Trump during one of the first debates with this question, “You’ve called women you don’t like fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals.  You once told a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees.  Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as President and how will you answer the charge of Hillary Clinton that you are part of the war on women?”  Trump responded with anger and further woman-hatred, accusing her of having blood coming out of “her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.”    The Access Hollywood tape, released to the world during his campaign, revealed that among other things, Trump felt he could sexually assault any woman he wanted because he was famous.

Trump had found an effective route to the White House in courting white lower and middle class men and women in the heartland of America.  “Trump’s supporters were pro-gun, pro-flag, anti-foreigner and convinced that their shortcomings were the fault of everybody but themselves.  They came from a world that was miles removed from Trump’s.  But when it came to the countless rallies in front of thousands of confirmed believers, Trump was quite capable of speaking their language, especially on the road to the Republican National Convention.”  Trump seemed forever the showman, but had no interest in putting together an actual campaign.  Several high level members  of his campaign resigned after power struggles and subsequently, his long time campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski was fired and replaced briefly by Paul Manafort, before the press discovered he had business dealings with Russia.  Fortunately for Trump, some far-right leaning Republicans, including Jeff Sessions, Newt Gingrich, Mitch McConnell, and others pledged to back him and began offering some much needed advice, like the need to pick a running mate.

Trump’s main platform for his presidential run was creating jobs, building a wall between the US and Mexico, and banning Muslims from entering the US.  He has allied himself with white supremacists, most notably Steve Bannon.  As Donald Trump’s platform has remained thin, it will likely be Trump’s cabinet members steering the ship.

This book’s publication date per netgalley, amazon and goodreads is February 26, 2016.  However, the copy that I read through netgalley took me through a history of Trump leading all the way up to the day he took office on January 20, 2017.  So, I’m guessing another edition will be released that gives this fuller biography.   Or you can request a copy directly from netgalley, here.  I’m glad I read this.  I did not feel there were a lot of surprises within this book, but it was helpful to read about Trump’s life from start to presidency to get a bigger picture.    Please note, my review is more biased than the actual book.  However, I do find it hard to believe that anyone who would read this book and take it to heart could come away singing Trump’s praises in terms of being an effective or suitable president of the United States.

 

 

Donald and first wife, Ivana

Children:  Don Jr, Ivanka and Eric

 

 

Donald and second wife, Marla Maples

Children:  Tiffany Trump

 

 

 

Donald and current wife, Melania

Children:  Barron

 

 

 

Mark Bowden’s 1997 Playboy Article on Trump – This article is mentioned in the book.  Trump tries to bribe Mark Bowden into writing a more favorable article once he realizes the weekend Mark Bowden is spending at his mansion is going awry.

Non-Fiction Children’s Animal Books!

My two younger children adore reading and learning about animals so much so that that has been the bulk of our reading for the past 8 months.  There are two favorites that I will discuss first and then two more that we read after requesting them from netgalley which I will review subsequently.

 

National Geographic Animal Encyclopedia: 2,500 Animals with Photos, Maps, and More! by National Geographic Kids

Pages:  304

Published: October 23, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

This book is fabulous!  I cannot believe this book that is so densely packed with information entertained my 4 and 6 year old nightly for a period of 6 months.  I might have thought the content would have been too dry, describing the diet, habitat, size and lifespan of animal after animal, however, my children were riveted.  The book is divided into sections by taxonomy:  mammals, birds, fish, invertebrates, amphibians reptiles.  Within each section, each page is devoted to a particular animal group and then goes more in depth on 8-10 particular species of that group.  I personally loved learning so much about all these animals.  We would make each page a game with me quizzing my children at the end of each page to see how much they retained.  Our  “Guess the Animal” game in the car has become quite sophisticated as a result of this book.  I loved how at the end of each taxonomy there is a page that goes into records: biggest, fastest, most poisonous, etc.  There are also pages describing researchers studying animal species in the wild which has served as a source of professional inspiration for my son.  If you have an animal lover in your family, I cannot recommend this book enough!  The photos are stunning, the maps detailing where the animals live are highly educational and there is so much depth to this book for great discussion to occur.  

 

Did You Know? Animals by DK Publishing

Pages: 144

Published: May 17, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

Having already tackled the National Geographic Encyclopedia of Animals, there was great enthusiam when this book entered our house, especially from my 4 year daughter.  This book was exactly what she wanted.  She would carry it around the house, begging for someone to read it to her and once it was finished, we would start again at the beginning.  Each page focuses on one animal species and starts with a question to get you thinking.  It discusses the answer to the question and gives descriptive information about the animal with arrows from the text to the relative anatomy.  It usually talks briefly about a couple of other animals who may have a similar behavior or adaption.  Then there is a “quick quiz” which covers topics that usually have not been covered in the text.  This did not cause concern for us.  We usually discussed the question, made a guess and then checked our answers in the back.  The re-reading was satisfying for my daughter because she was able to remember many of the answers to these “quick quizzes,” most of which we had been guessing at the first time around.  The photos are beautiful, the text engaging, and as demonstrated in our family… a great book for reading over and over.  

 

“Different?  Same!”  by Heather Tekavec and  Pippa Curnick (Illustrator)

Pages:  32

Expected Publication Date: May 2, 2017

 

 

 

This is a beautiful and playful animal book that seeks to engage young readers by pointing out differences between groupings of widely different animals and then asking what similarity exists.   The similarity might be stripes, horns, whiskers or shells.  It  is wonderfully written and beautifully illustrated.  It was engaging and fun to read with my four year old.  I would highly recommend this to readers 2-5 years old.  It makes you consider animals in different ways and think about why these vastly different animals might all have horns, whiskers, shells, etc.  We had fun with the last page of the book, pointing at various animals that all had a particular characteristic or habitat.  This is a great book for re-reading and generating discussion! 

 

“Animals Do Too!:  How They Behave Just Like You”  by Etta Kaner and Marilyn Faucher (Illustrator)

Pages:  32

Expected Publication Date:  May 2, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

This book asks the child a question followed by a discussion of how a particular animal likes to do the same thing.  It is playful in that it makes animal behavior seem childlike and fun.  A couple of examples are:  honeybees dance and gazelles play tag.  There are eight such children activity – animal behavior comparisons explored in this book.   This is a great read for any young animal lover, aged 2-5.  

 

TTT: Books I Loved Less than Everyone Else

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish is about books bloggers loved more or less than everyone else.  Sorry to be so negative here, but I am going to talk about 10 books I loved less than everyone else.  How did you feel about these books?  What books would be on your list?  Feel free to argue against me!  Tell me why you loved these books or agree with me.  I welcome your thoughts and opinions!

  1.  The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein – I hated this book which is written from the perspective of a dog.  The plot is horrible!! There is a false accusation of rape and the father loses visitation rights with his daughter, blech! The dog somehow is able to tell of events occurring in courthouse and other locations he was not in.  Race car driving becomes a metaphor for life.  This was a huge bestseller, promoted by starbucks and has a goodreads average rating of 4.19.  I don’t get it!
  2. The Rent Collector by Camron Wright – This historical fiction novel takes place in the slums of Cambodia, a country which the author has never visited!!!  He was inspired to write this novel after his son traveled there and made a documentary.  The whole thing rings as false.  You must take a huge leap of faith to go along with this story.  Yet, this too, was a best-seller and has an average goodreads rating of 4.23.  My review.
  3. The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner – This is the only book by Jennifer Weiner that I’ve read and I’ve heard some of her other books are better.  I thought this was pretty terrible, lacking any degree of depth whatsoever.  It’s about a young girl trying to make it in Hollywood.  It was literally painful to read and I’m pretty sure I did not make it to the end.
  4. The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty – I really disliked this book.  It is typical emotionally manipulative chick-lit.  I hated the focus on the nuclear family above all else.  I hated the spiteful relationships between the women in this novel.  Of course, we all know this was a huge best seller and very loved by many.
  5. Magic America by C.E. Medford – After listening to an interview with the author on NPR, I decided to read this book.  It involves biker angels, fairy godmothers, radioactive cats…  The problem was the story was underdeveloped and the book didn’t really take off, it just fell flat.  Not many people read this book, but you’d be surprised at all the 5 star reviews on goodreads.
  6. Bossypants by Tina Fey – I know I’m not going to be popular for putting this one on my list.  I LOVE Tina Fey, but I didn’t love this autobiography.  I love her humor and my favorite parts of this book were transcripts of some of her SNL skits.  The rest felt like scattered tidbits relating to her life.  So, I really couldn’t love this memoir.
  7. The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton – This is a book that got a lot of attention and was hyped as a great book club book when it came out, so my book club read it.   I found the storyline dull and the characters flat.
  8. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan – Yes, Ian McEwan is an amazingly talented writer.  I just hated this story and am still shocked and amazed that this was a Man Booker Prize nominee.
  9. The Martian by Andy Weir – Yes, this novel is impressive on so many levels.  It is excellently written and the science element is fascinating.  However, it made me want to pluck my eyelashes out, because there was not enough human interaction.  It’s about a man alone on Mars.  I need more interpersonal interactions in my books!
  10.  Divergent by Veronica Roth – Having really enjoyed the Hunger Games series, I decided I’d give this book a try.  For me, Divergent did not live up to the hype.  It greatly paled in comparison to Hunger Games.

**  Before posting this I realized the actual meme is “Books I loved more/less than I thought I would.  I liked the way I had already created it, so kept with this slight variation.

The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

Pages:  288

Published:  March 22, 2016

Awards:  National Book Award Nominee for Fiction (2016); Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Fiction (2016);  One of New York Time’s Book Review’s 10 Best Books of the Year

Format:  E-book

 

 

“The bomb was a child, a tantrum directed against all things.”

When I started this novel, I was captivated, absorbed, thoroughly in awe of the author’s writing and the subject matter he was tackling.  How often do we try to put ourselves in the shoes of the terrorists?  We are often so appalled by the acts of terrorism happening around the globe we don’t delve deeply into the minds of the terrorists?  What purpose are they working toward? What outcome do they expect?  What events led up to their becoming terrorists?  In this novel, the terrorists are not radicalized islamists, but political activists.  They have tried peaceful demonstrations without success.

The story sets out in Dehli with the Kurana boys (both Hindu) and their Muslim friend Mansoor at the market when a small bomb goes off.  The Kurana boys are dead, however Mansoor survives with an injury only to his arm.  He walks off, not with much direction or purpose, but ends up at home.  His life is forever impacted by the blast.   It is as if by being associated with that bomb, he is never able to be free of it.  The bomb has determined his fate.

The book also follows the terrorists.  Shockie had become a terrorist out of frustration for the way Muslims were treated in Kashmir, his home province.  He feels he is fighting for independence for a land he is in exile from.   The novel poignantly describes his conflicting feelings about setting off bombs.  When he calls his mother beforehand, he hopes to be summoned home to attend to her health.  There is a sense of desperation, a knowledge that not much will be accomplished by the blast, an anger that there is not more money to make a bigger impact.  “They fucking want freedom but this fucking cheapness with never go away.”  Interestingly, he finds closeness with Malik, who is working for the same cause, however believes more in the Ghandian philosophy, and is very much laughed at by the others in their group for his ideas.  Malik tells Shockie, ” What do you think these attacks are going to achieve?  Today when you were talking about the blast not being big enough, I was thinking: It doesn’t matter.  It’s all wrong.  Blasts are a way of hiding.”

The Kuranas lost two sons to the blast.  They deal with the loss in different ways and in various stages.  There is pregnancy and birth of a daughter, there is an arranged meeting with one of the accused terrorists (Malik), there is an affair, there is the creation of a group for victims and families of victims of small bombs.  Finally, there is the realization that even though they have been so active in the world of supporting terrorist victims, they are helpless in trying to get a dear innocent friend out of jail, as this book comes full circle.

As a young adult, Mansoor becomes active in an NGO working for communal harmony.  As part of their mission, this group advocates for speedier trials for accused terrorists and feels that many of those jailed were falsely accused.  Seemingly, the pressure to arrest people in the aftermath of a bomb, leads to many false arrests with torture and inconceivable years in prison prior to trial.  He becomes good friends with Ayub, a Muslim who is very much influenced by Ghandi.  However, after a disappointing break-up and disappointing peaceful demonstrations, he begins to think more like a terrorist.  Is this all it takes?   A theme of excess sexual frustration energizing anger in an ineffective manner is a steady current throughout this book.  After setting off a bomb at another busy market place, Ayub literally becomes the bomb.  The bomb here and throughout this book, is a metaphor for a useless and reckless way of dealing with problems.

This book is fatalistic.  It takes on an enormous task looking at terrorists, victims, families of victims, even the falsely imprisoned in the bomb’s aftermath.  It is dense and extremely well written.  The topic is tough, especially since the moral in this book is that these bombs are an exercise in futility – no one will win, everyone has much to lose.  I needed to take breaks from this book; I just didn’t want to think about the book for a while.  I do think it’s an important book, though.  It raises questions.  It is unique.  

2 Photos on left:  1996 bombing in New Delhi upon which this novel is based  (CNN)

 

 

 

Photo on right:  Ramzi Yousef (Shockie’s hero) – FBI photo of perpetrator of 1993 World Trade Center Bombing

 

 

 

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does the bomb symbolize in this novel?  What is it a metaphor for?
  2. How do you think the sexual tension and thoughts of sexual violence relate to the terrorism theme?  Shockie calls the New Delhi blast “an anticlimax” because he is frustrated that the first bomb did not go off because of faulty wiring.
  3. Why do you think Ayub becomes a terrorist?  What has driven the other terrorists into doing what they do?  Do you feel that the author empathizes with the terrorists at all?  Why or why not?
  4. The terrorists in this novel are political activists.  How do you think they differ psychologically from those that are not political activists?  What are other motivations in the world today for people to become terrorists?
  5. How does Mansoor’s injury from the blast impact the rest of his life?
  6. Why does Malik stay silent in jail?
  7. Why do you think Ayub becomes the bomb?  Do you think Ayub feels regretful by the end?
  8. In this book, the author says that when a bomb goes off the truth about people is exposed.  How is this true in the novel?  How does the bomb and the death of the Kurana children affect the Kurana’s marriage?
  9. Why do you think Vikas has no affection for his daughter?
  10. Why are the Kuranas so concerned about how the outside world perceives their level of wealth?
  11. Why do you think the Kuranas would get so excited about bombings?
  12. Discuss the meaning of the title?  Does this characterize the people as a whole within the novel?  Does it relate to the association formed by Deepa and Vikas?
  13. Why do you think these small bombings have become a global phenomena?
  14. The novel begins:  “A good bombing begins everywhere at once.”  What does this mean?  What makes for a good bombing?
  15. Were the victims or families of the victims ever able to let go of the bombing, move beyond it in their lives?  Do you think they ever could?
  16. How do you feel about Karan Mahajan’s portrayal of terrorists in this novel?  Do you feel it is fair and accurate?
  17. Does this book offer any possible solutions, better outlet for anger, better means of getting government to listen to the people and end corruption?

Karan Mahajan’s website

Review by Fiona Maazel in the New York Times

Review by Alexandra Schwartz in the New Yorker

LitLovers Discussion Questions

Interview with Karan Mahajan as conducted by Interview Magazine

Things We Lost in the Fire: Stories by Mariana Enriquez ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

Pages: 208

Expected Publication Date: February 21, 2017 (first published December 4, 2014 in Spanish)

Format:  E-book from netgalley

 

 

 

 

Wow!  What a macabre, twisted way to get swept up in the life and culture of Argentina.  I love when I read books outside my usual genres and get blown away by them. These short stories invoke living nightmares and nightmarish creatures that dwell just below the surface of normal life and enter into these stories in unexpected ways.  There are ghosts of the past, horrific creatures, and a sense of the clairvoyance  in these pages.  Some of the descriptions within these stories brought to mind Stephen King’s writing, particularly “Adela’s House.”  Certain descriptions of graffiti in repetitive patterns of letters that don’t seem to spell anything and the creature with teeth filed into triangles that eats Paula’s live cat in “The Neighbor’s Courtyard” are two other particular examples that felt Stephen King-esque to me.

The setting for these stories is in various cities in Argentina, including Buenos Aires, Lanus, and Corrientes.  There is a sense of healing in the land, but there are horrors of the past lurking just beneath the surface.  Natalia in “Spiderweb” saw a burning building which 10 minutes later was charred down to the earth.  Someone else in that story saw a ghost rising from the cement of a bridge, within which dead bodies must have been hidden.  In “Under the Black Water” a buried monster dwells in a polluted river, which people had been trying to cover up.  Argentina’s Dirty War took place 1974 to 1983 and though it is not directly referenced in these stories, the horrors lurking just beneath the surface and these ghosts of the past are most certainly from that time.

There are many common themes that wind their way through these stories creating interest and intrigue.  Many of the characters in these stories are depressed, sometimes overwhelmingly so to the point of not being able to work anymore, hurting themselves,  and perhaps hallucinating.  In one story “Green Red Orange,”  Marco becomes locked in, not seeing people anymore.  He only opens his door when no one is there to get the food his mother has left him.  He only communicates with an old girlfriend via chat from his computer where he becomes obsessed with the deep web, where he can find the most horrific things.

Another theme running through many of these stories is dissatisfaction with boyfriends or husbands.  The boyfriends and husbands in these stories are not loved or desired by the protagonist.  They are depicted as being over-confident, arrogant, pig-headed and most importantly useless.  The boyfriends or husbands end up disappearing or leaving by the end of each story.  The final and titular story “Things We Lost in the Fire” begins with women being the subject of fires set by angry significant others.  The women then begin to burn themselves in protest creating a world of disfigured women.  This is a very disturbing brutal ending to this collection of stories.

There is obvious social commentary within the pages of these stories.  The author is definitely a feminist.  She has an interesting way of depicting wealth versus poverty and sane versus mentally unstable.  She definitely delves into a world of darkness and demons, most of us do not think about.  She recognizes horrors within her stories, that don’t even pertain to the main story, but are issues with the society at large.  In “Spiderweb” the soldiers at the Paraguayan restaurant with their large guns are harassing the waitress and are likely going to rape her, however, any intervention would get the narrator and Natalia raped.  However, I feel the greatest social commentary contained within these stories is directed at the horrors and brutality of the Dirty War and how the ghosts of that time continue to haunt the Argentinian people.

Each story, thrilling and terrifying, ends on a cliffhanger.   You, the reader, are left not knowing, still wondering, what was truth and fiction, and where things will go from there.   I highly recommend this collection of short stories from a gifted and talented Argentinian writer!  It will make the hair on your arms stand up.  

 

 

The original, untranslated stories

 

 

 

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What social commentary is the author making?
  2. What political commentary is the author making?
  3. What literary influences did you find in the author’s writing?
  4. Why do you think depression figures so heavily in these stories?
  5. Discuss the role of female friendship within these stories.
  6. What role do drugs and alcohol play within these stories?
  7. How do these stories reference Argentina’s Dirty War?
  8. Discuss Gauchito Gil, his dark violent mythology and his role in the death of the boy in “The Dirty Kid.”  Why does Gauchito Gil appeal to the people in the neighborhood of Constitucion?
  9. How does Enriquez characterize the police in these stories?
  10. What is the meaning of people disappearing within these stories?
  11. In “Under the Water” the people of the slum are repeating “In his house, the dead man waits dreaming.”  What is the meaning of this?
  12. What do you think the meaning of the title is?  Why do you think the author chose this story’s title to be the title of the book?
  13. In “Spiderweb,” what does spiderweb symbolize?

Interview with Mariana Enriquez by McSweeney’s

Review by Allerdale Reviews

TTT: 10 Books I Didn’t get to in 2016 but Wish I Did

This week’s meme on The Broke and the Bookish has to do with romance.  Sorry to go against the Valentine’s theme, but, I don’t read much in the way of romance novels, so I figured I’d take the opportunity to do this top ten theme I’ve been hoping to do before too much more time elapses.  Here are the top ten books I really wanted to read in 2016 that I did not get to.   Next to each title I’ve also put in a sentence taken from the goodreads description of each.  Hopefully, by putting them all in a list here, I’ll get to most in 2017.

  1.  Portable Veblen by Elizabeth Mckenzie “Set in and around Palo Alto, amid the culture clash of new money and old (antiestablishment) values, and with the specter of our current wars looming across its pages, The Portable Veblen is an unforgettable look at the way we live now.”
  2. The Nix by Nathan Hill – “It’s 2011, and Samuel Andresen-Anderson—college professor, stalled writer—has a Nix of his own: his mother, Faye. He hasn’t seen her in decades, not since she abandoned the family when he was a boy.”
  3. All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood – “As the daughter of a meth dealer, Wavy knows not to trust people, not even her own parents. Struggling to raise her little brother, eight-year-old Wavy is the only responsible “adult” around. “
  4. News of the World by Paulette Jiles“In the aftermath of the American Civil War, an aging itinerant news reader agrees to transport a young captive of the Kiowa back to her people in this morally complex, multi-layered novel of historical fiction..”
  5. The Vegetarian by Han Kang – “…when splintering, blood-soaked images start haunting her thoughts, Yeong-hye decides to purge her mind and renounce eating meat. In a country where societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye’s decision to embrace a more “plant-like” existence is a shocking act of subversion.”
  6. Christodora by Tim Murphy“…Christodora is home to Milly and Jared, a privileged young couple with artistic ambitions. Their neighbor, Hector, a Puerto Rican gay man who was once a celebrated AIDS activist but is now a lonely addict, becomes connected to Milly and Jared’s lives in ways none of them can anticipate.”
  7. Dark Matter by Blake Crouch“…Dark Matter is a brilliantly plotted tale that is at once sweeping and intimate, mind-bendingly strange and profoundly human—a relentlessly surprising science-fiction thriller about choices, paths not taken, and how far we’ll go to claim the lives we dream of.”
  8. Before the Fall by Noah Hawley“With chapters weaving between the aftermath of the tragedy and the backstories of the passengers and crew members–including a Wall Street titan and his wife, a Texan-born party boy just in from London, a young woman questioning her path in life, and a career pilot–the mystery surrounding the crash heightens.”
  9. LaRose by Louise Erdrich“North Dakota, late summer, 1999. Landreaux Iron stalks a deer along the edge of the property bordering his own. He shoots with easy confidence—but when the buck springs away, Landreaux realizes he’s hit something else, a blur he saw as he squeezed the trigger. When he staggers closer, he realizes he has killed his neighbor’s five-year-old son, Dusty Ravich.”
  10. The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan “When brothers Tushar and Nakul Khurana, two Delhi schoolboys, pick up their family’s television set at a repair shop with their friend Mansoor Ahmed one day in 1996, disaster strikes without warning. A bomb…”

Have you read any of these?  Thoughts?  Any I should skip or move to the top of my list?

 

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen ~ Book Review & Discussion Guide

Pages: 224

Publication Date: February 7, 2017

Format:  E-book from netgalley

 

 

 

 

 

“I wrote this book for the ghosts, who, because they are outside of time, are the only one with time.” – prologue

What a timely book!  With the public debate about immigration in the forefront of everyone’s mind, with the executive and judicial branches of government battling out the legality of banning people from certain countries, the timing is perfect!   America’s history has been built upon accepting refugees from various countries. Between 1975 and 1995 over 480,000 people had immigrated to the United States.  Of the “boat people,” it is estimated that at least a third died.  This is exquisitely written, profoundly moving compilation of short stories, each one touching on the theme of immigration from Vietnam.

Viet Thanh Nguyen says he is writing these stories for the ghosts.  The first story in this book is most directly to that point.  The narrator is a ghost writer, telling other people’s stories not coming to terms with her own story until the ghost of her brother comes to visit her.   At that moment she confronts the trauma of her past.  Her brother risked his life to try to hide her as a boy when pirates raided their boat.  He was killed for it.  She was gang rapider front of her parents.  Her parents lamented her brother’s death, but never mentioned what had happened to her.  She carried the burden of her own trauma as well as of her brother’s death.  She was made to feel it was her fault.  She finally realizes she died too.  She is a ghost of the past and can write her own story.

The writing is incredible.  The stories themselves are beautiful, emotion-laden, with excellent character development and complexity.  The true nature behind the characters are revealed in unexpected ways.  The tension created by the juxtaposition of vietnamese culture in affluent America (as well as the converse) are explored.  These stories are not simply an exploration of Vietnamese culture and the refugee experience, but transcend that with the stories evoking so much truth about humanity that simply involve refugees as characters.

Rather than detail each short story, I highly recommend reading this brilliantly written grouping of 8 stories.  It is brief book, but packs a powerful punch.  These are stories that will move you and stay with you.  They are simply amazing!  

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Who are the ghosts in each story?  Why is it important to remember them?
  2. What does the term refugee mean?  How does it compare to expat or immigrant?
  3. Why does the father name his first and second set of children the same names in “The Fatherland”?  Discuss this.
  4. Nguyen also quotes James Fenton from the German Requiem in the prologue:  “It is not your memories which haunt you.  It is not what you have written down.  It is what you have forgotten, what you must forget.  What you must go on forgetting all your life.”  How does this quote resonate with the stories contained in the book?  How do forgotten memories haunt characters within these stories?
  5. Liem, in  “The Other Man,” sees his mirror image and does not recognize himself.  Why?
  6. What does this statement mean in “The Americans”:  “Smiling at your relatives never got you far, but smiling at strangers and acquaintances sometimes did.”  Why does Claire feel more at home in Vietnam than she did in America?

Joyce Carol Oates’ Review published in the New Yorker

Viet Thanh Nguyen’s website

Review posted by fellow blogger, The Shrinkette

 

 

TTT: Books I wish had more resolution to them (Books with Open Endings)

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish is Books I Wish had more X in them.  I have chosen to pick 10 books that I wish had more resolution to them.  These are books that left me with a feeling that all was not resolved, that the ending was up to interpretation.  This is not necessarily a bad thing.  In many of the books I mention below, the endings are ones I love to hate, or just plain love.  I often think that leaving some loose ends allows the reader to imagine more and makes the novel stay with you to a greater extent.  @!@!@!   Major Spoiler Alert @!@!@!

  1.  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – This novel has perhaps one of the most controversial devisive endings of all time.  This is a thriller where you expect the bad guy to be caught it in the end.  Instead, the degree of psychopathy is unravelled until the book ends… leaving the reader wanting more.   Many have argued whether the ending was brilliant versus lazy (the author just wanted to be done with the book).  Your thoughts?
  2. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – This novel ends with the heroine getting into a black car with unknown men.  They might be helping her to escape, if we are to believe Nick.  Or they may be arresting her for treason.  What did you think?  Were you an optimist or a pessimist as this book ended?

 3.  The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt – This book is epic,  encompassing such a long time period.  The ending is strange without clear resolution for such a chaotic book.  Theo is still kind of engaged to Kitsy and trying to get the stolen works back, but there is no resolution.  Is there some symbolism of the painting to Theo’s life that it is still with him?  Was this ending satisfying or dissatisfying to you?

4.  The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman  This is a beautiful fantastical novel about a man who returns home for a funeral.  Memories of his childhood begin flooding back when he finds himself at a farm at the end of the lane where he grew up.  He and Lettie Hempstock had spent time together in their fantastical world that seems to be a beautiful highlight of his horrific, chilling childhood.  The end of the novel is vague.  He refers to this part of his childhood as “a memory forgotten.”  Did this fantastical world exist or was it his imagination.  He is seeing two moons in the rearview mirror.  Is that a hint that this other fantastical world truly exists?  

5. Atonement by Ian McEwan This is a novel that doesn’t have an open ending in the sense that the others on this list do.  It is a novel that toys with your emotions.  It tells the story of a young couple in love just before WW2.  The boy is falsely accused of rape.  However, the two reunite after he is released from prison and live happily ever after, until we later find out this is fabricated.  They both died in the war.  Briony, trying to atone for her mistake of falsely accusing him, wrote a book detailing the truths of the rape, but the book will never be published as she fears lawsuit from the couple (rapist and victim) who are now married.  When I read the book and learned that the beautiful happy ending was not true, I refused to accept it, at least for a while.  How about you?

6. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell – This book ends with Rhett leaving Scarlett and Scarlett going back to her family home.   She says “I’ll think of it tomorrow at Tara.  I can stand it then.  Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back.”  So, how are we to take this?  Will she get Rhett back?  Or is she deluding herself?  What was your take on this?  Has she gained some self understanding by this point?

7. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – I am including this one because there are two endings to this book.  Originally, Charles Dickens wrote the book with the ending that Pip and Estella reunite years later.  Estella has been widowed by an abusive first husband and is now married to a poor doctor.  The last sentence in this version is “suffering had been stronger than Miss Havisham’s teaching and had given her a heart to understand what mine used to be.”  However, in the current version of Great Expectations read today, the ending is different, as a friend of Charles Dickens had encouraged him to change.  In this current version, Pip returns to the Satis house which has been torn down, but he sees Estella on the horizon.  We are led to believe that Pip and Estella live happily ever after.  Which ending do you prefer?  Why?

8.  Life After Life by Kate Atkinson – Is this the never ending story or the forever ending story?   I can’t decide. This book starts in 1930 where Ursula shoots Hitler in a smoky cafe after having lunch with him.  Then it goes back to 1910 where she is born and dies repeatedly, setting the book back again and again.  Her life story changing slightly each time to escape the previous death.   It is a book that never seems to really end. I loved it and felt it was brilliant, but others were thoroughly annoyed by it.  What did you think?  I thought the book might circle back to the initial scene, but it doesn’t.  Why do you think Kate Atkinson wrote it this way?

9.  The Road by Cormac McCarthy – This is a bleak dystopian world with little hope.  It is about a boy and his father who walk through this desolate lawless harsh world.  It is monotonous, joyless, brutal.  However, at the end as the father dies, the boy joins a group of kind souls who take him in.  Is this a hopeful ending for an otherwise gory bleak book?  Does it mean that society will rebuild itself?  Is this a surprising ending for Cormac McCarthy?  Why or why not?

10.  Forty Rooms by Olga Grushin – This is an amazing book that is about a life led through 40 rooms, from childhood to adulthood, from Russia to America.  It is about childhood dreams and aspirations for the future that get lost but still percolate beneath the surface.  It is about the choices women make in their lives, sacrificing some of their own dreams to be there for their families.  In this novel the fantastical blends with reality, so that there is a blur.  As the reader, and it appears even to the narrator,  the reality is unclear.  Is it a life well lived?  Was she a gifted poet?  Here is my review.

So, what other books might you include on this list?  Do you disagree with any of the books I have here?  Do you like or dislike books with open or ambiguous endings?  Please, share your thoughts!

TTT: Favorite Graphic Novels (An 8 year old Boy’s Perspective)

I had so much fun creating my list of top 10 favorite picture books for The Broke and the Bookish meme, that I thought I’d let my son play too.  He’s 8 years old and loves graphic novels.  He’s read tons of them and these are his favorites.  Again, these are in no particular order.  What are your favorite graphic novels for this age group?  He is always on the hunt for great books and would love your recommendations!

1.  Bone Series by Jeff Smith – a series of 10 books.  Tales of humor, mystery and adventure when 3 cousins get separated.  They attempt to find each other encountering many creatures in the process.

 

 

 

2.  Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney – My son devoured all 11 books in this series.  He was so excited to watch a movie and then so disappointed.  “Mom, this is not nearly as good as the book.”  It was a fun proud mom moment to have him make this realization.  He never asked to watch another Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie again.

 

 

  3.   Big Nate Series by Lincoln Peirce – This is an 8 book series of books that my son absolutely loved.  There are other Big Nate books out there as well, aside from the series as well as comic strip compilations.  These are books that my son goes back to and re-reads when he’s out of other reading material.  I hear him laughing out loud and he loves relaying snippets from these books to us.

 4.  The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – Having read and loved the non-graphic version of this book, I was excited to see how my son would react to this.  At first, he was definitely taken aback by the violence with which the book starts, but he quickly got into it, and now rates it in his top ten.

 

 

 

5.  13 Story Treehouse Series by Andy Griffiths – My son has read the first 5 books in this series.  It looks like the 6th is available in text in Australia, but not yet here in the US.  My son describes this series as having both an excellent storyline and great humor.

 

 

 

6.  Meanwhile by Jason Shiga – This is a choose-your-own-adventure graphic novel, fun to read over and over with different outcomes.

 

 

 

 

7.  Star Wars Jedi Academy Series by Jeffrey Brown – This is a 3 book series that my son tore through quickly engrossing him far more than any other star wars books have.

 

 

 

8.  The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby Series by Dav Pilkey, George Beard, and Harold Hutchins – This 2 book series is for kids who love silly humor.  The thing that bothers me about this series is all the misspelled words, because it is supposed to be written by two young kids themselves.  However, this doesn’t seem to bother my son.

 

9.  Amulet (Series) by Kazu Kibuishi – A 7 book series in a terrifying world of man-eating demons, a mechanical rabbit, a giant robot and two children.

 

 

 

 

 10. Lucy and Andy Neanderthal  by Jeffrey Brown – A stand alone graphic novel by the author of the Star Wars Jedi Academy series.

sharing a love of books

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